Meandering Home

Sad as it is, the time has come for me to return to the United States. The folks at the seed bank and Chiang Mai treated me to farewell dinners, and I said my farewells. I will miss Thailand, and all the people I met there. I learned a lot about seeds, food, agriculture, development, and Southeast Asian culture while I was there. It was a remarkable, interesting place to live and work.

But there is an end to everything. Fortunately, I didn’t have to fly straight back. Instead, I took the train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok and had a whirlwind two-day tour of Thai art and culture. Here are some photos of the adventure:

Some wilted lotus buds at a shrine in the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.

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A child looks at some lotus flowers in front of a lovely example of Ficus religiosa, the Bhodi tree, under which the Buddha is said to have received enlightenment.

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Some students taking a tour of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.

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A lock in the Grand Palace, bedecked with a small garland of flowers, for reasons mysterious to me.

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A crucifix in the Silpakorn University gallery of sculpture. Behind it, Buddha’s head.

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A profile of Florentine sculptor Silpa Bhirisri (born Corrado Feroci), the namesake of Silpakorn university, and the man most responsible for introducing modern art to Thailand. He was made the King’s official sculptor in 1924, and went on to train most of the prominent artists of Thailand. His motto, “Vita brevis, ars longa” (“Life is short, art is long”–or perhaps, “life is brief, art endures”) adorns the entrance to the university.

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Chinatown at dusk.

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Looking over Salvador Dali’s shoulder at an installation at the Bangkok Museum of Contemporary Art.

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The most striking piece I saw at the MOCA: like many examples of Buddhist art, it contemplates mortality in vivid, if not grotesque, detail. But something about the attention paid to the old man in this painting strikes me as loving. An example, perhaps, of the ethic of compassion in Buddhist thought which, to an outsider like me seems to run counter to the idea of detachment. The artist seems to say that detachment from the self allows compassion for the other–even if all things are as insubstantial as the old man’s grasp on life. But you’re free to draw your own conclusions.

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A silk-weaving loom at the late Jim Thompson’s house. Thompson, like Corrado Feroci, entered Thailand at a pivotal point in its transition to cultural and economic openness. He visited during the Vietnam war (in which he may have participated as a CIA operative), and stayed when the war ended. Thompson played an important part in marketing Thai silk abroad, and assembled a remarkable collection of Thai art and architecture in his home. This brought him a peculiar mixture of respect, gratitude and resentment in Thai society, as described in this article in the Paris Review. He disappeared in 1967 under mysterious circumstances while hiking in Malaysia.

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Artists preparing an installation outside the Bangkok Arts and Cultural Centre.

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A closer look at an artist at work.

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